[Sinn Fein]

9th July 2003

O'Hagan raises serious concerns about the conduct of the Equality Commission

Sinn Fein Upper Bann representative and equality spokesperson Dr. Dara O'Hagan is meeting with officials from the Office of First Minister/Deputy First Minister today, to discuss the ongoing review of the Equality Commission. Speaking in advance of the meeting Dr O'Hagan said:

``Today's meeting is part of a series of meetings that Sinn Fein is having with the Equality Commission and OFM/DFM. We will be raising a number of concerns about the Equality Commission and the manner in which the equality agenda is being dismantled.

``The establishment of the Equality Commission was a cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein had argued for a dedicated Equality Department and Ministry within the Executive. Instead the Equality Commission was established and charged with driving and implementing that agenda.

`` Five years on we have identified that the Commission, by its own deficiencies in management, in decisions it has taken and by dint of the fact that it has not fully exercised its powers or been adequately resourced, is not sufficiently impacting on the deep rooted inequalities that exist within our society.

``A review of the Equality Commission is currently being undertaken under the auspices of OFM/DFM. I will be raising a number of issues with officials >from OFM/DFM including the fact that elected representatives and stakeholders >from within the equality constituency were not notified that this review was taking place.

``The Commissions monitoring systems are deficient. As public representatives we have experienced ongoing difficulties in terms of soliciting information from the Commission about the categories of cases affected by their decision to withdraw assistance or refuse to grant funding for legal cases. This demonstrates that some five years on, the Commission has not put in place adequate monitoring systems to track the impact of decisions it takes as a Commission, never mind the impact of discriminatory practices by others.

`` Sinn Fein is of the view that the Review Team should also be examining the role of OFM/DFM which has a responsibility to monitor the effectiveness of the Equality Commission. This review needs to be pro-active and include stakeholders in the Equality constituency to elicit a range of views, otherwise the review will be looked on as a white wash.

`` Sinn Fein along with many others who work in the equality field, has serious concerns that a minimalist approach to equality is being adopted by the Commission and its parent department, OFM/DFM. Indeed there are fears that modest gains made are being rolled back. This is not acceptable. Equality remains a central plank of the Good Friday Agreement. Five years on we should be further along the path to eradicating discrimination and inequality.'' ENDS

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